Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology and the World

How is Norse mythology related to other mythologies such as the Greek, Roman, Indian, and Celtic?

The Norse people, like those of Greece, Rome, India, and the Celtic lands, spoke an Indo-European language—one that can be traced to the related peoples who migrated in various stages into India, Iran, and Europe in ancient times. It is not surprising that along with language similarities we find common themes in the mythologies of India, Iran, Greece, Rome, Ireland, and the Norse lands. The Norse war in heaven has counterparts in the war between the Titans and the Olympians in Greece and Rome and that between the Firbolg and Tuatha de Danann in Ireland. The world serpent exists in Norse mythology as Jormungand, who surrounds Midgard, and as the world serpent Sesha on whose back the god Vishnu rests in the creation story of India. Sometimes the serpents become the prey of the hero as monster-slayer, as in the case of Apollo with the Python in Greece, Krishna with the demonic serpent Kaliya in India, and Sigurd with Fafnir the dragon in the Norse saga. The role of Audumla the cow and her milk in Norse mythology surely has something in common with the significant role of cows and milk in Indian myth. And the role of the first being, Buri, has a cognate in the Purusha in Indian mythology. Thor, as a god of Thunder, has a counterpart in Zeus in Greece. The parallels are numerous.

More than any European mythology, Germanic mythology—particularly of the Norse tradition—is in keeping with the ancient Indian sense of life as a part of a huge cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction. Many see this cyclical pattern as a reflection of an essentially pessimistic view, perhaps, reflecting the long dark days of the seemingly endless northern winters. Others see it, as Hindus do, as a natural cosmic history of birth, death, and rebirth.


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